The tagline for The English Surgeon, Geoffrey Smith’s documentary about British neurosurgeon Henry Marsh, asks, “What is it like to possess godlike surgical powers yet struggle against your own humanity?” For 15 years, Marsh has been working with Kiev doctor Igor Kurilets provide what little hope they can to locals suffering various brain ailments. The scene in which Marsh and Kurilets compare old power drills at a street vendor’s stall—to be used for an upcoming brain operation—goes a long way in demonstrating the cruel realities of practicing advanced medicine in poor communities. The documentary opens like a medical drama, and the footage practically carries itself, as Smith keeps the filming tight and the story honest. Marsh counters failed surgeries—he’s particularly haunted by the death of a child patient—with Limey stoicism. But he also demonstrates an unnerving and nearly perverse sense of self-importance, constantly emphasizing the hope he provides. Marsh’s one-man-against-all-odds mentality regarding his well-publicized humanitarian work conjures up another rhetorical question: “What’s it like to be an altruistic saint yet come off as a self-important opportunist?”
Thursday at 6:30 p.m. Also at 9 p.m. on Friday, April 24. Both showings at Goethe-Institut.